The Ins and Outs of Intake

Giving up a pet is often one of the hardest decisions a person might ever have to make.  As Intake Liaison at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, I receive calls every day from clients who have come to the unfortunate decision that they must surrender their dog.  Approaching these phone calls with a sense of compassion and understanding is of utmost importance. At the Animal Rescue League of Boston, if someone is surrendering a pet, we want that person to feel like they can talk to us and be honest about the dog’s behavior and health.  Oftentimes, the pet owner has done quite a bit of research to determine to which shelter to surrender their pet and this can be largely dependent on whom the owner feels comfortable speaking to.

Most of the people who call will have genuine reasons why they need to surrender their pet, and oftentimes, even though we might not always agree with the decision, we understand that it was not taken lightly..  Whether it be that the family lost their home, the dog bit the new baby, the owner’s health is declining, or the dog is simply not a good fit, it is important that the owner feels comfortable enough to be open with the staff member at the shelter.  It is rare that a client  calls in needing to surrender a pet for a silly reason, such as going on vacation.  And if at all possible, we try to come up with solution that could help the person keep their pet.  If we feel that the dog would have a difficult adjustment at our shelter, we can suggest foster home-based rescue groups that might be more suitable for a particular pet.  The logistics of the intake process can vary greatly from shelter to shelter with the most important step being that each dog receives intake vaccines (primarily Kennel Cough and a Combination vaccine that includes Distemper and Parvovirus) before they even enter a kennel.  However, the process can start long before the owner brings the dog in.  At ARL, if someone calls to surrender a dog, we typically ask them to fill out an intake profile, found on our website, that they can fax or email to us.  Once we receive the completed form, the dog is placed on our waitlist, or, if we have a kennel readily available, we make an appointment to take the dog in.  At this point, we can also ask the current owner to clarify any questions that we have about the dog.  Depending on the needs of the dog, our waitlist can move extremely quickly as we understand that many of our clients need to surrender as soon as possible.  If someone walks in with a dog and no appointment, we do try to accommodate them, but only if we have a kennel available.  Our surrender fee is $75, but we do understand that not everyone can afford it and we would never refuse someone because they could not afford the fee.

Largely because of our work with the Center for Shelter Dogs, we have become known as the shelter that works with dogs with behavioral concerns. For those of us who are professionals in animal welfare, it can be very rewarding, but from an intake standpoint, this can be daunting because we are constantly trying to balance the types of dogs we have.  It would be very easy to fill our shelter with dogs with medical concerns, dogs of a particular breed type, dog-aggressive dogs, dogs with a history of resource guarding, fearful dogs, or jumpy/mouthy dogs.  While these are all dogs we can accept, depending on the severity of the concern, it would be very difficult to have, for example, a shelter filled with dog-aggressive dogs, for a few of reasons.  First, our staff would have a lot to handle trying to walk all of these dog-aggressive dogs in a city setting.  Second, it would be difficult for our pool of potential adopters to adopt such similar dogs at any one time.  We would basically be expecting the same type of adopter to come in time and time again.  Third, these dogs would have a rough time in our playgroups, which is part of our enrichment program. It is best to have a mix of behavioral concerns, medical concerns, breed types, sizes, and ages.  That way, we hopefully have a dog for any potential adopter who walks through our doors and we can help each dog in our care.

As you can see, much thought is put into a dog coming into our shelter even before it walks through our doors.  Once a dog is here for its intake appointment, I use that as an opportunity to ask any further questions that I have about the dog that I notice based on how the dog looks on intake.  If the dog is scared of me (yummy treats are a must in any intake office), I will ask the owner if this is how the dog typically greets strangers.  If the dog has a bump, cloudy eye or a patch of missing hair, I can ask the owner how long that has been going on for.  We put martingale collars on all of our dogs as soon as they arrive.  However, putting a new collar on a nervous dog can be terrifying for both the dog and the staff member so this is something I always ask the owners to do.  That way I can also see how the dog interacts with its owner for handling.  If possible and necessary, I will fit the dog for an EZ Walk harness.  Then  another staff member and I will administer the intake vaccines before bringing the dog to the kennel.  We will often ask owners to bring their dog’s bed or favorite toy so they have a bit of home with them here in the shelter and, hopefully, if we have planned appropriately, the dog will shortly be onto to its new home.

There are many ways to structure the intake process, form, and environment.  The more thought given to the process, from the perspective of the surrendering owner, shelter staff, and, of course, the dog, the better the process will be for all involved. For example, one important aspect of the intake process, data collection, is the focus of CSD’s April webinar. Enhancing the way that we gather information is one great way to help shelter staff, as well as the dogs and their adoptive families. The more we know, the more we can do. Here at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, we strive to continually improve our process for our dogs, our adopters and our greater community.